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1.  Generalized Functional Linear Models for Gene-based Case-Control Association Studies 
Genetic epidemiology  2014;38(7):622-637.
By using functional data analysis techniques, we developed generalized functional linear models for testing association between a dichotomous trait and multiple genetic variants in a genetic region while adjusting for covariates. Both fixed and mixed effect models are developed and compared. Extensive simulations show that Rao's efficient score tests of the fixed effect models are very conservative since they generate lower type I errors than nominal levels, and global tests of the mixed effect models generate accurate type I errors. Furthermore, we found that the Rao's efficient score test statistics of the fixed effect models have higher power than the sequence kernel association test (SKAT) and its optimal unified version (SKAT-O) in most cases when the causal variants are both rare and common. When the causal variants are all rare (i.e., minor allele frequencies less than 0.03), the Rao's efficient score test statistics and the global tests have similar or slightly lower power than SKAT and SKAT-O. In practice, it is not known whether rare variants or common variants in a gene are disease-related. All we can assume is that a combination of rare and common variants influences disease susceptibility. Thus, the improved performance of our models when the causal variants are both rare and common shows that the proposed models can be very useful in dissecting complex traits. We compare the performance of our methods with SKAT and SKAT-O on real neural tube defects and Hirschsprung's disease data sets. The Rao's efficient score test statistics and the global tests are more sensitive than SKAT and SKAT-O in the real data analysis. Our methods can be used in either gene-disease genome-wide/exome-wide association studies or candidate gene analyses.
PMCID: PMC4189986  PMID: 25203683
rare variants; common variants; case-control association studies; complex diseases; logistic regression; functional data analysis; generalized functional linear models
2.  A Prospective Cohort Study of the Prevalence of Growth, Facial, and Central Nervous System Abnormalities in Children with Heavy Prenatal Alcohol Exposure 
Most children who are exposed to large quantities of alcohol in utero do not develop fetal alcohol syndrome (FAS). Population-based prospective data on the risk of developing components of fetal alcohol spectrum disorders (FASD), however, are limited.
This was a prospective cohort study of 9,628 women screened during their first prenatal appointment in Chile, which identified 101 who consumed at least 4 drinks/d (exposed) matched with 101 women with no reported alcohol consumption during pregnancy (unexposed). Detailed alcohol consumption data were collected during the pregnancy. Children were evaluated up to 8.5 years of age by clinicians masked to exposure status.
One or more functional central nervous system abnormalities were present in 44.0% (22/50) of the exposed children compared to 13.6% (6/44) of the unexposed (p = 0.002). Growth restriction was present in 27.2% (25/92) of the exposed and 12.5% (12/96) of the unexposed (p = 0.02). Abnormal facial features were present in 17.3% (14/81) of the exposed children compared to 1.1% (1/89) of the unexposed children (p = 0.0002) by direct examination. Of the 59 exposed children with data available to detect at least 1 abnormality, 12 (20.3%) had no abnormalities. Binge drinking from conception to recognition of pregnancy (OR = 1.48 per day, 95% CI: 1.15 to 1.91, p = 0.002) and after recognition of pregnancy (OR= 1.41 per day, 95% CI: 1.01 to 1.95, p = 0.04) and total number of drinks consumed per week from conception to recognition of pregnancy (OR = 1.02 per drink, 95% CI: 1.01 to 1.04, p = 0.0009) were significantly associated with abnormal child outcome.
After exposure to heavy alcohol consumption during pregnancy, 80% of children had 1 or more abnormalities associated with alcohol exposure. Patterns of alcohol use that posed the greatest risk of adverse outcomes were binge drinking and high total weekly intake. Functional neurologic impairment occurred most frequently and may be the only sign to alert physicians to prenatal alcohol exposure.
PMCID: PMC4162305  PMID: 22823161
Alcohol; Pregnancy; Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders; Growth Restriction; Neurodevelopment
3.  Acyclovir Exposure and Birth Defects 
PMCID: PMC4158607  PMID: 20736478
4.  Heavy prenatal alcohol exposure and risk of stillbirth and preterm delivery 
We prospectively identified 96 women consuming at least 4 drinks/day during pregnancy by screening 9628 pregnant women. In these women with heavy prenatal alcohol use, there were three stillbirths and one preterm delivery; 98 matched nondrinking women had no stillbirths and two preterm births. Preterm rates did not differ significantly. The stillbirth rate was higher in the exposed group (p = 0.06). Additional investigation showed the stillbirth rate in the exposed population (3.1%) was significantly higher (p = 0.019) than the reported Chilean population rate (0.45%). Our data suggest that heavy alcohol consumption may increase the risk for stillbirth but not preterm delivery.
PMCID: PMC4148070  PMID: 21728738
alcohol; pregnancy; stillbirth; preterm delivery; binge drinking
5.  Anorectal atresia and variants at predicted regulatory sites in candidate genes 
Annals of human genetics  2012;77(1):31-46.
Anorectal atresia is a serious birth defect of largely unknown etiology but candidate genes have been identified in animal studies and human syndromes. Because alterations in the activity of these genes might lead to anorectal atresia, we selected 71 common variants predicted to be in transcription factor binding sites, CpG windows, splice sites, and miRNA target sites of 25 candidate genes, and tested for their association with anorectal atresia. The study population comprised 150 anorectal atresia cases and 623 control infants without major malformations. Variants predicted to affect transcription factor binding, splicing, and DNA methylation in WNT3A, PCSK5, TCF4, MKKS, GLI2, HOXD12, and BMP4 were associated with anorectal atresia based on a nominal P value <0.05. The GLI2 and BMP4 variants are reported to be moderately associated with gene expression changes (Spearman’s rank correlation coefficients between −0.260 and 0.226). We did not find evidence for interaction between maternal pre-pregnancy obesity and variants in MKKS, a gene previously associated with obesity, on the risk of anorectal atresia. Our results for MKKS support previously suggested associations with anorectal malformations. Our findings suggest that more research is needed to determine whether altered GLI2 and BMP4 expression is important in anorectal atresia in humans.
PMCID: PMC3535506  PMID: 23127126
anorectal malformations; imperforate anus; hindgut; congenital abnormalities
6.  Hirschsprung’s disease and variants in genes that regulate enteric neural crest cell proliferation, migration and differentiation 
Journal of human genetics  2012;57(8):485-493.
Hirschsprung’s disease (HSCR) results from failed colonization of the embryonic gut by enteric neural crest cells (ENCCs); colonization requires RET proto-oncogene (RET) signaling. We sequenced RET to identify coding and splice-site variants in a population-based case group and we tested for associations between HSCR and common variants in RET and candidate genes (ASCL1, HOXB5, L1CAM, PHOX2B, PROK1, PROKR1) chosen because they are involved in ENCC proliferation, migration, and differentiation in animal models. We conducted a nested case-control study of 304 HSCR cases and 1 215 controls. Among 38 (12.5%) cases with 34 RET coding and splice-site variants, 18 variants were previously unreported. We confirmed associations with common variants in HOXB5 and PHOX2B but the associations with variants in ASCL1, L1CAM, and PROK1 were not significant after multiple comparisons adjustment. RET variants were strongly associated with HSCR (P values between 10−3 and 10−31) but this differed by race/ethnicity: associations were absent in African-Americans. Our population-based study not only identified novel RET variants in HSCR cases, it showed that common RET variants may not contribute to HSCR in all race/ethnic groups. The findings for HOXB5 and PHOX2B provide supportive evidence that genes regulating ENCC proliferation, migration, and differentiation could be risk factors for HSCR.
PMCID: PMC3503526  PMID: 22648184
congenital abnormalities; enteric nervous system; Hirschsprung disease; RET
7.  Invited Commentary: Preventing Neural Tube Defects and More via Food Fortification? 
American Journal of Epidemiology  2008;169(1):18-21.
Many neural tube defects can be prevented if women take folic acid around the time of conception. However, the majority of women do not take folic acid at the critical time, so the US government required that food be fortified with folic acid effective January 1, 1998. Whether the amount being added was sufficient to prevent all folate-related neural tube defects has been hotly debated. Mosley et al. (Am J Epidemiol. 2008;169(1):9–17) found no evidence that folic acid supplement use or dietary folate intake was related to neural tube defects, indicating that fortified food is probably providing sufficient folic acid to prevent folate-related defects. Because data on the effectiveness of fortification in the United States are scarce, this is an important contribution. There is great interest in the other effects of fortification. Folic acid reduces homocysteine levels, and homocysteine has been linked to cardiovascular disease and cancer. On the basis of current evidence, however, it seems unlikely that fortification will reduce cardiovascular disease rates. Its effect on cancer remains unclear. Folic acid may be useful in primary prevention but may also stimulate the growth of existing malignancies or premalignant lesions. Although these issues remain unresolved, Mosley et al. have provided important data to address the primary question: Does fortification prevent folate-related neural tube defects?
PMCID: PMC2720707  PMID: 18953060
anencephaly; folic acid; food, fortified; neural tube defects; spinal dysraphism
8.  Folate and Vitamin B12 Related Genes and Risk for Omphalocele 
Human Genetics  2011;131(5):739-746.
Both taking folic acid-containing vitamins around conception and consuming food fortified with folic acid have been reported to reduce omphalocele rates. Genetic factors are etiologically important in omphalocele as well; our pilot study showed a relationship with the folate metabolic enzyme gene methylenetetrahydrofolate reductase (MTHFR). We studied 169 non-aneuploid omphalocele cases and 761 unaffected, matched controls from all New York State births occurring between 1998 and 2005 to look for associations with single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs) known to be important in folate, vitamin B12, or choline metabolism. In the total study population, variants in the transcobalamin receptor gene (TCblR), rs2232775 (Q8R), and the MTHFR gene, rs1801131 (1298A>C), were significantly associated with omphalocele. In African-Americans significant associations were found with SNPs in genes for the vitamin B12 transporter (TCN2) and the vitamin B12 receptor (TCblR). A SNP in the homocysteine-related gene, betaine-homocysteine S-methyltransferase (BHMT), rs3733890 (R239Q), was significantly associated with omphalocele in both African-Americans and Asians. Only the TCblR association in the total population remained statistically significant if Bonferroni correction was applied. The finding that transcobalamin receptor (TCblR) and transporter (TCN2) SNPs and a BHMT SNP were associated with omphalocele suggests that disruption of methylation reactions, in which folate, vitamin B12, and homocysteine play critical parts, may be a risk factor for omphalocele. Our data, if confirmed, suggest that supplements containing both folic acid and vitamin B12 may be beneficial in preventing omphaloceles.
PMCID: PMC3374579  PMID: 22116453
omphalocele; folate; vitamin B12; homocysteine; transcobalamin; transcobalamin receptor
9.  Evaluation of Genes Involved in Limb Development, Angiogenesis, and Coagulation as Risk Factors for Congenital Limb Deficiencies 
We conducted a population-based case-control study of single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs) in selected genes to find common variants that play a role in the etiology of limb deficiencies (LD)s. Included in the study were 389 infants with LDs of unknown cause and 980 unaffected controls selected from all births in New York State (NYS) for the years 1998 to 2005. We used cases identified from the NYS Department of Health (DOH) Congenital Malformations Registry. Genotypes were obtained for 132 SNPs in genes involved in limb development (SHH, WNT7A, FGF4, FGF8, FGF10, TBX3, TBX5, SALL4, GREM1, GDF5, CTNNB1, EN1, CYP26A1, CYP26B1), angiogenesis (VEGFA, HIF1A, NOS3), and coagulation (F2, F5, MTHFR). Genotype call rates were >97% and SNPs were tested for departure from Hardy-Weinberg expectations by race/ethnic subgroups. For each SNP, odds ratios (OR)s and confidence intervals (CI)s were estimated and corrected for multiple comparisons for all LDs combined and for LD subtypes. Among non-Hispanic white infants, associations between FGF10 SNPs rs10805683 and rs13170645 and all LDs combined were statistically significant following correction for multiple testing (OR=1.99; 95% CI=1.43-2.77; uncorrected p=0.000043 for rs10805683 heterozygous genotype, and OR=2.37; 95% CI=1.48-3.78; uncorrected p=0.00032 for rs13170645 homozygous minor genotype). We also observed suggestive evidence for associations with SNPs in other genes including CYP26B1 and WNT7A. Animal studies have shown that FGF10 induces formation of the apical ectodermal ridge and is necessary for limb development. Our data suggest that common variants in FGF10 increase the risk for a wide range of non-syndromic limb deficiencies.
PMCID: PMC3448837  PMID: 22965740
limb deficiencies; polymorphisms; FGF10
10.  Evaluation of 64 Candidate Single Nucleotide Polymorphisms as Risk Factors for Neural Tube Defects in a Large Irish Study Population 
Individual studies of the genetics of neural tube defects (NTDs) contain results on a small number of genes in each report. To identify genetic risk factors for NTDs, we evaluated potentially functional single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs) that are biologically plausible risk factors for NTDs but that have never been investigated for an association with NTDs, examined SNPs that previously showed no association with NTDs in published studies, and tried to confirm previously reported associations in folate-related and non-folate-related genes. We investigated 64 SNPs in 34 genes for association with spina bifida in up to 558 case-families (520 cases, 507 mothers, 457 fathers) and 994 controls in Ireland. Case-control and mother-control comparisons of genotype frequencies, tests of transmission disequilibrium, and log-linear regression models were used to calculate effect estimates. Spina bifida was associated with over-transmission of the LEPR (leptin receptor) rs1805134 minor C allele (genotype relative risk (GRR): 1.5; 95% confidence interval (CI): 1.0, 2.1; P = 0.0264) and the COMT (catechol-O-methyltransferase) rs737865 major T allele (GRR: 1.4; 95% CI: 1.1, 2.0; P = 0.0206). After correcting for multiple comparisons, these individual test P-values exceeded 0.05. Consistent with previous reports, spina bifida was associated with MTHFR 677C>T, T (Brachyury) rs3127334, LEPR K109R, and PDGFRA promoter haplotype combinations. The associations between LEPR SNPs and spina bifida suggest a possible mechanism for the finding that obesity is a NTD risk factor. The association between a variant in COMT and spina bifida implicates methylation and epigenetics in NTDs.
PMCID: PMC3503244  PMID: 21204206
congenital abnormalities; folic acid; neural tube defects; single nucleotide polymorphism; spina bifida
11.  Testing reported associations of genetic risk factors for oral clefts in a large Irish study population 
Suggestive, but not conclusive, studies implicate many genetic variants in oral cleft etiology. We used a large, ethnically homogenous study population to test whether reported associations between nonsyndromic oral clefts and 12 genes (CLPTM1, CRISPLD2, FGFR2, GABRB3, GLI2, IRF6, PTCH1, RARA, RYK, SATB2, SUMO1, TGFA) could be confirmed.
Thirty-one single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs) in exons, splice sites, and conserved non-coding regions were studied in 509 patients with cleft lip with or without cleft palate (CLP), 383 with cleft palate only (CP), 838 mothers and 719 fathers of patients with oral clefts, and 902 controls from Ireland. Case-control and family-based statistical tests were performed using isolated oral clefts for the main analyses.
In case-control comparisons, the minor allele of PTCH1 A562A (rs2066836) was associated with reduced odds of CLP (OR: 0.29, 95% CI: 0.13–0.64 for homozygotes) whereas the minor allele of PTCH1 L1315P (rs357564) was associated with increased odds of CLP (OR: 1.36, 95% CI: 1.07–1.74 for heterozygotes and OR: 1.56, 95% CI: 1.09–2.24 for homozygotes). The minor allele of one SUMO1 SNP, rs3769817 located in intron 2, was associated with increased odds of CP (OR: 1.45, 95% CI: 1.06–1.99 for heterozygotes). Transmission disequilibrium was observed for the minor allele of TGFA V159V (rs2166975) which was over-transmitted to CP cases (P=0.041).
For 10 of the 12 genes, this is the largest candidate gene study of nonsyndromic oral clefts to date. The findings provide further evidence that PTCH1, SUMO1, and TGFA contribute to nonsyndromic oral clefts.
PMCID: PMC3503531  PMID: 19937600
cleft lip; cleft palate; congenital abnormalities

Results 1-11 (11)